We are in uncharted territory. For nearly all of us, this is the first global pandemic that's affecting nearly every single country in the world.
Our lives have been turned upside down. We live in constant fear for our loved ones, both near and far. News reports provide reports of rising death tolls, almost by the hour. Besides the human tragedy, which is immense, there is a second-order economic crisis unfolding that risks leading to even more human tragedy as working men and women lose jobs, homes and means to support themselves and their families. Recessions and downturns also kill.
There is no sugar coating here. Some experts put the death toll in the millions when COVID-19 is finally behind us. Some argue our current collective predicament will lead to a great depression and 'ice age' of economic activity. Even the best-case outcomes - “V” or “U” shaped recoveries - are going to be painful.
Compassion, then Calculation
So what can we do, both as human beings and as leaders of organizations?
The first priority is and should be to control, contain, and cure the pandemic. We need to make sure that all of us - from the least to greatest among us - are safe.
There are very real organizational benefits to focusing first on an approach that might be categorized as “compassionate.” When we have time and space to reflect on this crisis, we will see all too clearly how politics, poorly planned trade policies, severed communications channels, and lack of state investment in health care infrastructure contributed to our current state. Let’s face it: better policies and planning would have mitigated an awful lot of pain.
But this is also the time when real leaders need to emerge. The best leaders understand they can’t fight reality, and that they have a choice in how to respond to every stimulus. So choose compassion first. And then get started with your planning process. Because this, too, will pass. And you need to be ready for when it does.